Heuristics are essential for addressing the complexities of engineering design processes. The goodness of heuristics is context-dependent. Appropriately tailored heuristics can enable designers to find good solutions efficiently, and inappropriate heuristics can result in cognitive biases and inferior design outcomes. While there have been several efforts at understanding which heuristics are used by designers, there is a lack of normative understanding about when different heuristics are suitable. Towards addressing this gap, this paper presents a reinforcement learning-based approach to evaluate the goodness of heuristics for three sub-problems commonly faced by designers: (1) learning the map between the design space and the performance space, (2) acquiring sequential information, and (3) stopping the information acquisition process. Using a multi-armed bandit formulation and simulation studies, we learn the suitable heuristics for these individual sub-problems under different resource constraints and problem complexities. Additionally, we learn the optimal heuristics for the combined problem (i.e., the one composing all three sub-problems), and we compare them to ones learned at the sub-problem level. The results of our simulation study indicate that the proposed reinforcement learning-based approach can be effective for determining the quality of heuristics for different problems, and how the effectiveness of the heuristics changes as a function of the designer’s preference (e.g., performance versus cost), the complexity of the problem, and the resources available.

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